The Mystery of the Somerton Man / Taman Shud Case

On the morning of 1st December 1948, an unidentified man was found dead on Somerton Beach just south of Adelaide: he is usually referred to as “The Somerton Man” or sometimes “The Unknown Man”.


Six weeks later, a suitcase apparently containing the same man’s property was retrieved from Adelaide Railway Station’s cloakroom, where it had been deposited at around 11am the day before his death. However, apart from three items marked “Kean”, “Keane”, and “T. Keane” (nobody with that name was missing), nothing indicating the man’s identity was found in those belongings.


Tucked into a tiny fob pocket in the dead man’s trousers was a small scrap of printed paper ripped out of a book: mysteriously, it contained the Persian phrase Tamam Shud (i.e. “It Is Ended”, or “The End”).


This was quickly recognized as being the final words of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, quite a popular book at the time. And then some months later, a particular copy of the Rubaiyat surfaced with part of the final “Tamam Shud” page removed: it was claimed that the book had been thrown into a car parked near the same beach where the man had been found.

The Writing

At this point, the mystery of the case was compounded by the discovery of some faint writing on the rear page of the book. This included a local phone number (“X3239″), and several lines of cipher-like writing. Careful analysis of this suggests that it is more likely to be an ‘acrostic’ (i.e. the first letters of a text or poem, possibly as a mnemonic aid for remembering it) than a cipher, because its letter frequencies are more similar to the letter frequencies of the first letters of English words than to those of normal English text.


The phone number X3239 turned out to be that of a nurse called Jessica Ellen Thomson (née Harkness) living at 90A Glenelg Street, not far from the same beach. When quizzed by the police at the time, she said that she did not know who the deceased was. All the same, when she was later shown the plaster cast bust of the dead man, she was “Completely taken aback, to the point of giving the appearance that she was about to faint” (Feltus, p.178), giving rise to a strong suspicion that she knew more than she was letting on.

She did tell police that she had independently given a copy of the Rubaiyat to a man called Alfred Boxall, who she had met at the Clifton Gardens Hotel in Sydney in 1944 while she was training to be a nurse at the nearby Royal North Shore Hospital. However, Boxall quickly proved to be very much alive and living in Maroubra (and not the dead man found on the beach), leaving both him and the police somewhat baffled.

Just Jestyn?

Up until Thomson’s death in 2005, this was as much as anyone knew. However, in a 2013 interview for the Australian “60 Minutes” current affairs TV programme, her daughter Kate revealed that her mother had told her that she indeed did know more about the Somerton Man, but had deliberately not revealed it to police. She also revealed that her mother was able to speak Russian; suggested that her mother may have been involved in some spy-related activity; and that her mother thought that the whole Somerton Man affair was above “a State Police level”. This has, of course, unleashed a torrent of speculation, though with not a shred of external evidence to back any of it up.

Also: one unusual feature of Boxall’s copy of the Rubaiyat is that the nurse had apparently signed it “Jestyn”, though her name at the time was actually Jessica Ellen Harkness. By way of resolution, Kate recently commented that:

When nursing, all the other nursing pals in her year called her tina because she was only 4ft 11inch and slim. Xmas cards sent to her in her later years from her nursing pals either said dear tina or dear tyna. Seen it as they were put on display at home. mum said its an easy explanation put jess together with tyna and u have Jestyn.


Gerry Feltus confirmed that when many years ago he talked to various RNSH nurses who knew Jessie Harkness, they also said that she “sometimes referred to herself as Tina“. However, getting from there to “Jestyn” still seems something of a stretch (if not an outright leap): so perhaps there may yet be more to be uncovered here.

The Sealed Room

In many ways, the whole Tamam Shud case is a perfect murder mystery (‘murder’ insofar as the coroner suspected poisoning but was not able to prove it), to the point that there’s no way of knowing whether a murder actually took place (many people propose suicide as an explanation for many features of the mystery), who the victim was, what the murder weapon was (if indeed it was a murder), or who the perpetrator was.

Yet a curious feature is that despite having been found with his head propped up against the sea wall, the dead man’s body had extensive lividity (blood pooling) at the back of the head, suggesting that his body had spent some considerable time after dying with the head in a quite different position (i.e. lying on its back face up, yet with the head slightly below the rest of the body). Oddly, there was a half-smoked cigarette in his mouth on the beach, which (when taken together with the lividity) would strongly suggest that the corpse had been actively posed by person or persons unknown. This combination of facts would seem to rule out suicide.

Even so, useful and actionable facts about the case remain painfully few, very far between, and continue to be difficult to connect with each other. It’s true that if we could identify the man himself, we might possibly gain enough context to understand his cipher: but based on the evidence we currently have, I think the odds would seem to be strongly against either mystery being resolved any time soon.

However, there are some new twists to the story, in which I will present to you in great detail.

Twist 1)

A MYSTERIOUS identification card could be the answer to the 63-year-old mystery of the unknown man, discovered dead on Somerton Beach.

 ID Card Somerton Man

The case has intrigued investigators, code sleuths and amateur detectives for decades, but a picture of a British man named H. C. Reynolds on a 1918 US-issued seaman's identification card has now been positively identified by a facial recognition expert.

Internationally renowned anatomist and biological anthropologist Professor Maciej Henneberg, of Adelaide University, has used his expertise to compare the 18-year-old man in the card photo with police file pictures of the dead man.

"It's not just about an exact image," he said. "There is a close similarity of the ear, and ears don't change.

"The ear is a very good match, and there are anatomical similarities in other features."

But it is a mole on the cheek that cemented Prof Henneberg's opinion that it was more than likely the same man. "Such moles change little with age, though size may slightly differ," he said. "Together with the similarity of ear characteristics, this mole, in a forensic case, would allow me to make a rare statement positively identifying Somerton man as H. C. Reynolds."

An Adelaide woman, who did not want to be identified, found the card last year among old photos and documents belonging to her father, and took the card to Prof Henneberg after seeing publicity around former detective Gerry Feltus's book The Unknown Man. Mr Feltus wrote the book based on his investigation of the case during his career and published it last year.

The woman contacted the Sunday Mail after seeing a story about an unsuccessful application by Professor Derek Abbott, also of Adelaide University, to exhume the body.

Using mathematical formula and accounting for differences in age, angle, photographic distortion and facial expression, Prof Henneberg found the rare ear shape shown in both photographs made it likely they were the same person.

He also found that a mole that appears in both photographs was likely to be the same - which he calls a "unique identifier". Searches by the US National Archives, UK National Archives and Australian War Memorial Research Centre - at the request of the Sunday Mail  - have not uncovered any records relating to the H. C. Reynolds in the ID card.

Prof Henneberg is considered an expert in the highly specialised field of biological anthropology.

He has worked for police and defence lawyers and is regularly called as an expert witness in court cases where identity is an issue.

Prof Henneberg said there were many difficulties in comparing facial structures from the images. Pictures of the Somerton Beach man were not taken until a few days after he died.

Prof Henneberg said that meant his face would have changed shape from before his death, with gravity altering the appearance of his cheeks, chin, eyes and forehead. But there were two indicators that helped him compare the photographs and come to his rare conclusion. The ears were of the same type and are the least likely part of the face to change with age or death.

Accounting for photographic differences, the nose, lips and eyes also appeared to be of the same type.

H. C. Reynolds would have been about the same age as the unknown man. The ID card records his age as 18 in 1918but the unknown man was believed to be in his mid-40s when he died in 1948. Prof Henneberg has passed on his finding to SA Police.

A spokesman said Major Crime was investigating the information.

Twist 2)


THE mysterious Somerton Man may have been killed by his nurse lover - an Adelaide woman and suspected Soviet spy with whom he fathered a child, it has been claimed.

And, in another startling revelation, two women who believe they are related to the Somerton Man's son want the unknown man's body exhumed in a bid to prove DNA links and in turn answer a 65-year-old que­stion as to his identity.

Tonight 60 Minutes reveals for the first time that the Somerton Man was romantically linked to Somerton Park nurse Jessica Thomson who lived in Moseley St, just metres from where the man's body was found slumped against a sea wall 65 years ago.

Her daughter, Kate Thomson, says she accepts her mother was a Soviet spy who may have had a hand in the murder of the Somerton Man, also a suspected Russian agent.

"She had a dark side, a very strong dark side," Kate tells 60 Minutes.

"She said to me she, she knew who he was but she wasn't going to let that out of the bag so to speak. There's always that fear that I've thought that maybe she was responsible for his death."

Police linked Jessica Thomson to the Somerton Man seven months after his well-dressed corpse was found on December 1, 1948.

But Jessica denied any knowledge when questioned by police. Kate says her mother lied to police.

The site at Somerton was the man's body was found leaning against a sea wall.
The site at Somerton was the man's body was found leaning against a sea wall.

"She told the police that she didn't know who he was and certainly I know nothing," Kate tells 60 Minutes .

"She did (know) and she told me that it is a mystery that was only known to a level higher than the police force."

The Somerton Man is one of Australia's most enduring and baffling Cold Case mysteries since his body was discovered on December 1, 1948.

According to 60 Minutes he was last seen knocking on the door of Jessica's house but she was not home.

He walked in the direction of Somerton Beach where his body was later found lying against a seawall.

Numerous items were found in his pockets , including a used bus ticket an unused rail ticket to Henley Beach. All labels to his clothes were cut off. His wallet was missing.

He died of unnatural causes, most probably due to poisoning.

Police later found a piece of rolled-up paper with the words "Tamam Shud", meaning "it is finished", found deep in a fob pocket sewn within the dead man's trouser pocket.

It was torn from a copy of the Persian book The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam - which was thrown into a doctor's car, parked outside his home at Somerton Beach, on the night of November 30, 1948.

The book had Jessica's unlisted phone number inside.

All police records relating to the case have been destroyed and Jessica, the one tangible link to his identity, is dead.

Jessica also had a son, Robin, to another man.

Robin's wife Roma Egan and their daughter, Rachel, have now come forward claiming Robin was the progeny of the Somerton Man and Jessica Thomson.

They are backing a new bid by Adelaide University physicist and Somerton Man expert Professor Derek Abbott to exhume the Somerton Man's body from his West Terrace Cemetery grave.

"It may be confronting, it may not be pleasant but I'd rather find out the truth," Rachel tells 60 minutes.

"Somerton Man is potentially my grandfather. So that to me is very important."

Prof Abbott has lodged a fresh application with Attorney-General John Rau to have the body exhumed.

"The imperative to identify this unknown man is on par with the current practice of identifying unidentified WWI and WWII graves for bringing closure to their families, and there is a considerable general public interest in the case to do so," he wrote in the November 21 letter to Mr Rau.

"In terms of specific public interest, there is a potential descendant of the unknown man living in Australia and I am now able to verify a compelling likelihood of this based on both historical proximity and anatomical evidence."

In October 2011, Mr Rau rejected a similar application stating that there needed to be "public interest reasons that go well beyond public curiosity or broad scientific interest".

The note found in a hidden pocket in the Somerton Man's trousers.
The note found in a hidden pocket in the Somerton Man's trousers.

On November 30, 1948 an unknown man arrives in Adelaide on a one-way train ticket.

He buys another one-way ticket to Henley Beach and leaves his suitcase at the Adelaide Railway Station.

He doesn't take the train, instead crosses North Terrace and takes a bus to Henley Beach.

He's seen knocking on the door of nurse Jessica Thomson's Moseley St, Somerton Park, home that afternoon.

She does not answer and he walks towards Somerton Beach.

His dead body is found propped up against a seawall at 6.45am on December 1.

In his pockets were a used bus ticket, an unused rail ticket from the city to Henley Beach, a narrow aluminium American comb, a half-empty packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, an Army Club cigarette packet containing Kensitas cigarettes, and a quarter-full box of Bryant & May matches.

A half-smoked cigarette was balanced on his shirt collar.

A post-mortem revealed a fit man with broad shoulders, toned legs and a healthy heart. The pathologist suspected an exotic poison, but no trace was found.

On January 14, 1949 an unclaimed suitcase believed to be his - is found in Adelaide Railway Station's cloakroom.

Among items inside were a red checked dressing gown, slippers, underpants, pyjamas, shaving items, trousers, a screwdriver, knife and scissors. A coat had a front gusset and stitching only used on garments made in the US.

On April, 1949 police find a tiny piece of rolled-up paper with the words "Tamam Shud", meaning "it is finished" found in a fob pocket sewn within the dead man's trouser pocket. A doctor comes forward, saying it was torn from a copy of the book The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam - which was thrown into his car, parked at Somerton Beach, on the night of November 30.

This led to claims the man could have been a Soviet spy but supposed codes in the book were never able to be deciphered.

On June, 1949 a coronial inquest is unable to determine cause of death and an open finding is delivered. The man is buried at West Tce Cemetery.

In October 2011, the South Australian Attorney-General, John Rau, denied a request for exhumation.

The contents of a bag found with the Somerton Man's body.

The contents of a bag found with the Somerton Man's body.

A report from The News on the mystery of the Somerton Man's identity.
A report from The News on the mystery of the Somerton Man's identity.

Another report from The News about the Somerton Man.
Another report from The News about the Somerton Man.

Watch the 60 minutes interview from starting point 20 minutes 20 seconds:

Part 1                                                                                          Part 2

Part 1/3                                                     Part 2/3                                                     Part 3/3               


The Man Called Cold: The Woodrow Derenberger Interview

The odd events began on November 2, 1966, around 7:30pm when Woodrow Derenberger, a salesman for a sewing machine company was returning from Marietta, Ohio to his home in Mineral Wells, West Virginia along Highway I-77. When out of nowhere near Parkersburg, West Virginia another vehicle flew up and passed him. Woodrow described the vehicle as the strangest thing he'd ever seen and said it resembled a "kerosene lamp chimney" and that it was "flying" six inches off the ground. The vehicle came around him, turns sideways across both lanes of the road in front of him, gradually made him slow down to a stop onto the side of the road.
After that, a door opens, and a grinning man steps out of the vehicle, the door shuts with a loud "thunk" behind him. A few seconds later the vehicle climbs 40 feet into the air above the highway. Derenberger says that the dark suited man walked to the right side of his truck, spoke to him telepathically, and asked him to roll down his window and was saying that he meant Derenberger no harm.

The strange man said that he was called "Cold".

Indrid Cold has been linked to real phenomenon and many people claimed to have encountered him. Some say that there is only one grinning man, some say that there are many, but all eyewitnesses agree on one thing, he will scare the hell out of you. Eyewitnesses believe that Indrid Cold is one of the mysterious men in black, an alien, some other unknown creature or all of the above. Wherever Indrid Cold has been seen, UFO sightings, disasters, or other strange phenomenon seems to follow.

Special thanks to Susan Sheppard for saving this from destruction. Without you, the record of Woodrow Derenberger's strange encounter would be lost forever. 

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